Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Balsan Restaurant

I had the distinct privileged and honor of joining a few chefs and cooks for a rousing meal at Balsan last night. I had never been to the Elysian hotel which is home to to restaurants Balsan and Michelin two-star Ria. The hotel itself is gorgeous and done in the style of a European castle in the heart of the gold coast. The beauty of dining with 12 cooks is that we get to try everything on the menu - literally. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures, but it's not that important or useful, just go to the website.

The food quality and flavor is quite good at Balsan. Most items share a European cuisine theme and classic preparation. There are plenty of fish items, raw bar, cheese/charcuterie and "things from the wood oven". My apologies for the change in format (and lack of pictures) as I'm trying to hit everything.

What could use work:
There were a lot of french fries on the table. Not sure how or why but it felt like each and every dish came with a large helping of fries. They're pretty good but overload was an issue (and maybe only because we ordered everything??).
The strangest taste was a side of spigarello (leafy green) with black pepper sausage. I don't know where it came from but there was an intense and strong after taste of fire. Strong fire that burns your throat. Not fun or tasty, and weird.
I was excited to try the agnolotti, filled with ricotta and served with english peas and tarragon. I like stuffed pasta but this was lacking in flavor especially the ricotta filling.
Most of the people liked the soft shell crab dish but I'm not usually a fan of soft shell crab and this dish didn't do much to change that opinion. We also ordered the Grand Platter seafood tower ($130) - with a whole lobster, king crab, 10 clams, 12 mussels and 18 oysters. I really enjoyed the crab and mussels (very large), but the clams and oysters were average.
That's about all I can think of for dishes that I didn't love. My list of good tastes is much longer with plenty of choices I would like to eat an entire plate of.

What worked well:
John Dory Goujonettes - can you ever really mess up fried fish? Doesn't matter, these were a hit and were delicious. Great dipping sauce too.
Octopus - a small dish of fried octopus that came in a really tasty sauce that was a bit sweet. Very flavorful and addicting.

Truffle fries with mornay, fried egg, and summer truffle - yes I said we ate too many fries, but these were outstanding. Truffle, egg, friend potatoes, what can be better?


Wood fired burger with cheddar, red onion, house b.b.q., fries - Quite tasty burger. Would order again in a heartbeat. The top bun is cut off so that it's more like a toast. Very tasty, nice meat and good bbq.

Hanger steak with parmesan, garlic, bordelaise, fries - nice steak cut into small pieces and served with fries. Simple but tasty and well cooked with nice flavors or parmesan and garlic. I don't know if I would want an entire plate for myself, but it's well served.

Berkshire suckling pig with wild mushrooms, port wine, watercress - the pig was a hit. You're served basically half a small pig. The meat was very tender and juicy with nice flavors. Not overly fatty either. Expensive ($60) but good and not overwhelming.

The wild alaskan halibut en papillote (paper bag halibut) is a classic preparation and done well. The fish was perfectly cooked and mild. Maybe too mild without a lot of character but I bet that's the goal.
The sugar snap peas and potato purée were really good sides and came in very cool small round metal skillet(?).

We had a nice and energetic meal tasting the entire menu. I wish I could do that more often to help really understand what's happening in the kitchen and get a fair shake to evaluate talent. There were only a few dishes I didn't love and it's really more of a comparison issue as nothing "bombed." The only real complaint is issue some might have is with value and pricing. I didn't see the bill but just looking at the prices on the menu it's going to be an expensive meal. Hats off to the crew at Balsan that are creative very good food without tricks and gimmicks.

Balsan on Urbanspoon

10 comments:

  1. So was this an invite to review? Did you have to pay?

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  2. We both love to eat and I guess you also like clam dishes.

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  3. Balsan restaurant sounds like a good place to dine in the Chicago area. They offer good delectable dishes at a reasonable price. It doesn't take much to induce one to chow down the prosciutto and salami they serve.

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  4. Appetizing, even on paper. This is amongst the casual restaurants I would like to try in Chicago.

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  5. Most of my catering clients also prefer European cuisine with some Asian recipes for their guests who do not want pasta.

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  6. Their wood-fired burgers have a unique taste. It must be due to the smoke coming from the wood that enhances its flavors.

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  7. Balsan restaurant is a great place to eat I wonder why only 76% of people liked it?

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  8. Balsan seems like a good restaurant. I wish they would give it a higher score in terms of ratings.

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  9. We stayed at Elysian last year and tried Balsan. The food was great, we enjoyed the experience.

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  10. This is very extra ordinary web blog.The postings in this blog are quite interesting and unique. Please add some more new posts in this blog. I am the frequent visitor to this blog.

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